INTERVIEW: Photographer Skipp Zhang speaks about his journey to the US from China

INTERVIEW | Skipp Zhang
PHOTOGRAPHER

Photo Credit: Errick Easterday

Often it’s the bands on stage or the audience losing their minds in the pit that is the main focus of any show. More so because you don’t want to get killed so you have be looking out for yourself from all directions hahaha…Then you start looking around and you notice there are actually a lot of other people doing things to make shit happen. A lot of handlers and personnel constantly checking equipment, sound, lights, etc. But by far, some of the most important people to be involved at shows are photographers. Not just your every day smartphone photograpers but those who risk life and limb right in there in the pit amongst swirling arms and kung-fu kicks with their gear and equipment capturing every moment. These are the unsung heroes who go into a burning building to document the night with every click.

Today we get to share with you the background of one such brave photographer. A recent China transplant to the US named Skipp Zhang who has quickly become one of the most sought after photographers of an underground movement. Check out his photos below and his journey from the Chinese underground into the world of the American underground.

*All photos below are by Skipp unless otherwise noted
**Cover photo above was taken by the talented Errick Easterday

Band: Bane

Skipp! How’s it going out there in the US brother?!
Pretty good so far! Kind of busy with school (and shows) hahaha…

So how long have you been living out there now?
I came to the States in August of 2014 so it’s like two and a half years now. 

Goddamn! Only 2 and a half years? I feel like you’ve been there for 10 years! It seems you’ve been super busy out there!
I feel like I’ve been here forever too hahaha

When you first got out there how long did it take before you started to head out to local shows and stuff? What is your recollection from the first show you saw in the States?
My first show in the States was a local metal show and actually I don’t remember a lot about it. My first hardcore gig was Lionheart and Drowning together with a couple local bands. The singer of Drowning came and gave me a hug after their set. A few people came to talk to me after the show. I think that’s when I started getting involved in the scene and making friends.

Drowning – Skipp’s first experience in taking photos of hardcore shows once he moved to the US.

Why did the guy hug you after the set? Were you already taking photos that night or were you there just kinda getting a feel for how hardcore shows are in the States?
I was with my camera that night. I was standing alone and Bryan from Drowning came to say “Hi” to me. He didn’t ask about the photos, he just came over and gave me a hug when he found out I was new there. 

That’s fucking awesome man.
Yeah it was!

That’s the way hardcore should be – if you notice someone new in the scene and are by themselves you go over and say what’s up and welcome them into the community.
Yeah that was super sweet!

Band: Chipped Teeth

The first local band that I actually became close friends with was Chipped Teeth. Josh and Cody were in that band and really treated me like a brother, though Josh isn’t in the band anymore. When I knew them Josh’s three year old daughter was just diagnosed with Leukemia. But the family stayed really positive through the whole situation and the hardcore scene came together to help them out. H2O and Biohazard flew from NYC to play their benefit show called Mosh For A Cause. The year after, Bane, Leeway and Burn played the benefit show too. All the money from the benefit show goes straight to Railey Hospital for children’s cancer awareness. A band called Knocked Loose threw in almost all their money when they played Indianapolis. They donated 5 dollars for each stage dive and ended up donating a couple hundred dollars. Knocked Loose was a small local band back then and now they’re HUGE and are one of my favorite bands. It’s through this I kind of learned what “hardcore community” means.

Band: Knocked Loose

When did you officially start taking photos of local shows? And what was the response to your photos in the beginning?
I actually took pictures at shows when I was still in China and I brought that habit to the States. I knew my pictures sucked at the beginning but bands kept telling me how they appreciated my shots.

One of Skipp’s photos from his early days which he says is when his photos “sucked”. Is he nuts?!??!
Band: Evocation (Hong Kong metal band)
Year: 2014

So when you started taking pics what were some things that you had to be careful of? Pits at hardcore shows are notoriously easy places to get hurt.
Yeah exactly. I got crowdkilled pretty often during shows. So it’s better when you know the songs beforehand, so you know when the breakdowns hit and people are gonna lose their minds hahaha…But on the other hand, the pit is really fun to shoot. Shooting a hardcore show is very different from shooting other shows. At other shows, it’s more focused on what’s happening on stage and the fancy lights. But in terms of hardcore, I need to pay attention to the crowd and the pit, that’s where most of the best pictures in hardcore come from.

And there’s literally no lights at some DIY hardcore venues so I can blast my flashes hahahaha…

Oh that’s rad that you’ve gotten to check out the difference between shows at pretty professional venues and then more DIY shows. For people who don’t know, what’s a typical set up for DIY shows? Can you describe how simple the set up can be and the venue?
Some venues are just as simple as having literally nothing. When I was in Indiana I got to see shows in basements, garages, skating courts and churches. And literally right now I am watching a beatdown show in a clinic and in the photo below that’s ALL that is set up.

That’s super rad – I remember those shows in the States too. People here in some places around Asia don’t realize that bands in the States all start with making shit happen any way possible. Like the set up at this show you’re at is literally just a PA for vocals and that’s it!
Yeah man! I think people in Asia are starting to do some DIY shit too! I’ve seen videos and photos from shows in Hong Kong which is super rad!  And I think I have seen videos from some Southeast Asia shows that are very simple set up too!

For people starting out taking pics what is the basic setup you think they should start with gear wise?
I mean don’t feel limited by gear if you have the passion for photography and for music. I got my camera for only like 3k Chinese Yuan which is like 500 USD. Just come out take pictures with whatever camera you have and shoot as much as you can. You will know what type of lens and flash you’ll want to get once you start taking pics.

What is the setup you have now?
I have a canon 600D camera with Tameron 10-24 lens and a random flash.

Band: Foundation

Once you’ve got a night full of photos what’s your process before you put them out for the public? Is their any touch ups you do?
I love editing my shots a lot. I like working on the curves, the contrast and white balance. When I find out some edits that i really like, I will save them as presets and use them all the time.

And you’re using photoshop to do all your editing?
I usePhotoshop Lightroom, a sub-software under photoshop.

Band: Shoot The Gun

I think it would be strange not to ask this question since you’re actually there in trump land. What’s your experience now with all the craziness going on in he states? The US has always had issues with race, but seems like with this big orange Cheeto in charge everything is much worse now. Any issues that you’ve faced?
Actually a guy at the gas station just told me that I should go back to China. But as far as my situation, the school and the music scene is still racist-free. Anyone that has some sort of education should know what is right and what is wrong. I have school friends from Iran and they feel very insecure. But the schools are backing us international students hard, so I hope things will get better, especially for my Muslim friends.

You have friends from Iran who are worried? I bet they don’t want to leave the country so they don’t risk not being able to come back in.
Yeah I bet, but I think the ban is now canceled.

Band: Strife

So what’s your plan as you finish off your education? Will you try to stay in the states or will you go back?
I am planning to get a job in the States first and then see what will happen, but still not sure though. If there’s good opportunity back home, I will take that too.

As you look at both scenes that you’ve experienced the one in china and now in the states what are the differences and similarities?
In China, I think it’s more like a metal/metalcore scene, the hardcore scene is still pretty small. Most of the audience at shows there behave like a typical metal audience: head banging, push pits, etc. Also, people are always involved in different scenes. You can see one guy at a metalcore show one night, and at a thrash metal gig the next night. In the states, the scenes (hardcore, metal, metalcore) are more separated, probably because people have more choice. And of course, the scene here is way more violent as crowd killing is a trend.

Band: King Ly Chee

For the cover of this interview I’m going to use the photo you see above. Can you tell me who the photographer is?
That’s Errick Easterday. He is actually my favorite photographer of ALL TIME! He took some of my favorite pictures. Like the one below which is easily my favorite FAVORITE photo:

Photo credit: Errick Easterday

What is it about his photos that you love?
His photos are like music scene documentaries. I can feel the passion and emotion and the love behind each and every picture. Let alone the pictures themselves are flawless…

As you continue down this journey as a photographer – what is some parting words you can give to would be photographers in the world?
Enjoy what you are doing and have fun on this journey. Talk to people and learn from people. All that effort will pay off in the end. The most important part is follow your heart and find where your passion truly lies. As for me, I actually rarely recognize myself as a photographer, I would rather call myself a hardcore kid that takes pictures hahahaha…

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